Monday, March 09, 2015

The Painting of a Jade Plant

I usually reserve step by step explanations of paintings for my teaching blog (, however I haven't been working that blog in some time and I thought this blog would be a better platform because this is a not so much a step by step lesson but more an insight into the mind and heart of what this artist is thinking from the inspiration and inception of a painting, through its stages of growth and into its final and painful birth. So join me for awhile as I share with you entries from my journal as the painting emerges. As I'm already quite a ways into the piece, I'll be putting down here the first few stages and corresponding entries in one shot. I'll break it into two separate blog entries bringing it to where it is today and then further developments will be shared as they take place.

Journal Entry, February 24, 2015

The inspiration for this piece came as a whispered prayer from the Jade plant itself which has been growing patiently in the foyer of my home under the soft, filtered light from my northern skylight. The plant loves it there I think. I can tell by the way the stems reach straight up toward the light. I fear that the painting may be taking too long and that the poor thing regrets its request and wishes to return to the sanctity of that quiet false rain forest atmosphere where it has been for a very long time. It is, after all, rather gloomy in my studio. I turn the set up directly to the light of my over large studio window when I'm not at work. The race is on now to finish before the plant suffers for its vanity.

I thought for a long time about how I wanted to do this painting. Should I work in pastels or Oils? I decided on oils and then I took another month to consider my concept. After all, I have always taught and been taught to have a concept. How else will I know when I'm done? When I have fulfilled my concept, the work is done. Or so I've come to believe.  Though I do have a concept in mind, I've decided to honor the request of the Jade and ask the painting what it requires instead. It seems to call for a background that would speak of it's ancestry or at the very least lend some viability to its name. Hence, the Asian wallpaper in the background. Now, mind you, I don't know that Jade plants are at all descended from Asian ancestry. But who am I to question a plant after all? While I wanted to honor this request, I had to consider the how of it all. I'm really not very good at calligraphy and, for that matter, my own handwriting is terrible. I settled on some paper that had Korean writing on it and scanned that into my computer, printing it out through the magic of Photoshop onto archival paper. This was affixed to canvas - which had some problems of its own. Won't go into that here, but I've learned a lot about this kind of application since. Being a classical painter and having had the importance of archival materials beat into my head, I struggled with this whole idea of mixed media for another couple of weeks. A call to Golden relieved my anxiety and I moved forward. (Please comment on the blog if you have any questions about how I proceeded here.)

Journal Entry, February 26, 2015

I transferred the drawing this past Sunday and spent the better part that day just getting some glazing down. I used combinations of burnt sienna, burnt umber and permanent alizarin crimson to lay in the color. Today, I felt that I could start in on the container or is it a vase? It doesn't seem quite the right word. I was a bit stymied by the light. The cool light coming in from my north facing window just doesn't seem to set it off right. I was definitely frustrated over this unexpected conundrum. I changed the temperature of an additional light bulb several times. I'm still not happy. The plant wants natural light. I can hear that and obviously it needs it to survive this process as well. I can easily see this painting taking a month or more. Just artificial light won't do and besides, I dislike working from it. I settled on a combination but can see that I'll need to use my internal vision more than my physical sight to get the quality of light I envision. But the whole trial and error thing took the better part of the day. Sigh. I didn't get far, but at least I made a start. 

Journal Entry, February 27, 2015

Well, things are moving ahead although I can't say I'm completely satisfied. I struggle to integrate the background with the foreground. The leaves of the plant are trickier than I thought, and as is the manner of plants, it keeps changing as it endeavors to turn toward the light. Still, the plant is dictating this painting. It thinks it's the client and has commissioned the work. So I have to deal. The under painting could have been done better but the ground on which I'm working has its own challenges and so I made do with a very basic wash in and allowed myself to forego the usual detailed grissaille. I hope none of my fellow graduates from Georgetown Atelier see this once I post it. The container is off a bit and this first pass is not what I was aiming for.  But the Jade is taking shape. I've experimented a bit with some broken yellow/green in the background and think I'll keep it. So much still to do.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

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